Football 101: Football Positions & Their Roles

There are many football positions who have obvious roles, like the quarterback. But when it comes to telling the difference between the fullback and running back, it isn't as easy. Learn more about football positions and what role they have on the field.

In America, football is the undisputed heavyweight champion of all team sports, so it’s often assumed that everyone knows at least the fundamentals of the game. But what about the parent who wouldn’t know a hip pad from a thigh pad, whose kid just came home from school and declared his desire to play? If that’s you, read on for a primer on the positions and their responsibilities:

PART 1: Offensive Players

There are 11 players on offense. The ultimate goal is to score touchdowns. The offense does this by running and passing the ball down the field and getting into the end zone. The offense consists of:

Quarterback (QB) – The field general. He calls the plays, initiates action and handles the “snap.” He either hands the ball to the running back or passes the ball to a receiver. He may also run with the ball. If this is your kid, then he can throw the ball with some power and accuracy.

Running Back (RB) – Also known as the Halfback. This player does it all. Lining up either behind or beside the quarterback, he runs, he catches, he blocks and he’ll even throw a pass from time to time. If this is your kid, he is likely a quick runner who thrives on contact.

Fullback (FB) – Like a heartier version of the RB, but in the modern game usually more of a lead blocker out of the backfield. If this is your kid, then he’s probably a good runner with exceptional strength.

Offensive Line – There are five offensive linemen. In order from left to right, they are: the Left Tackle (LT), Left Guard (LG), Center (C), Right Guard (RG) and Right Tackle (RT). It is their job to either pass block for the QB so he has time to throw or run block for the RB or FB. Most of the time, with the exception of the Center “snapping” the ball to the QB, offensive linemen do not touch the ball. If your kid is any of these, they are probably among the biggest, strongest kids on the team.

Tight End (TE) – This guy is a hybrid between a receiver and an offensive lineman. Generally he lines up next to the LT or RT or he can “split out” like a wide receiver (see below). His duties include blocking for both the quarterback and the running backs, but he can also run into the field and catch passes.  If this is your kid, he catches like a receiver, but has the strength and size to survive on the line.

Wide Receivers (WR) – Wide receivers, for the most part, are known as pass catchers. They start the play split out wide from the rest of the formation, at or near the line of scrimmage (an imaginary line that extends from sideline to sideline at the point where the ball is placed) and run pass routes awaiting a pass from the QB. On running plays, they will throw blocks and occasionally take a handoff. If this is your kid, he probably combines blazing speed with

Part 2: The Defensive Players

There are 11 players on defense. It’s the defender’s job to prevent the offense from scoring. They do this by preventing the offense from advancing the ball.

Defensive Line – This is the first line of defense and consists of three or four players who line up opposite the offensive line. They are two Defensive Ends (DE) on either side and one or two Defensive Tackles (DT). Their job is to shed the blocks of the offensive linemen and tackle ball carriers, usually running backs coming through the line or quarterbacks dropping back to pass. If this is your kid, he is probably big and strong.

Linebacker (LB) – As the name implies, the Linebackers back the defensive line. Depending on the defensive alignment, there are usually three or four on the field. Outside linebackers (OLB) stand to the sides of the DEs and Inside linebackers (ILB) or middle linebackers (MLB) stand behind the DTs. LBs are usually responsible for shadowing RBs, TEs and sometimes WRs; rushing the passer; and tackling ball carriers. If this is your kid, they are likely strong and fast.

Cornerback (CB) – Cornerbacks are usually the fastest player on the defense. They support the run, and might be asked to blitz the QB, but spend most of their time covering wide receivers. This means they try to break up passes, tackle players who catch passes, and try to intercept passes coming their way. There are usually two to four CBs on the field at a time. If this is your kid, they are probably really fast and a capable tackler.

Safety (S) – There are two S positions: the Strong Safety (SS) and the Free Safety (FS). The strong safety is usually, well, strong, and fast. They are usually responsible for covering TEs, RBs, and WRs and playing down the field but are often expected to come up in run support. The Free Safety has similar duties but is commonly considered the center fielder, and thus the last line of the defense. If your kid plays S, they are likely fast and strong and a capable tackler.

Part 3: Special Teams

The third phase of the game is special teams, which basically means the kicking game. Specialty players here are:

Kicker (K) – The kicker is responsible for kickoffs and field goals. They are strong-legged players who can kick accurately from a tee on kickoffs and from a holder on field goals.

Punter (P) – The punter is responsible for kicking the ball away if the offense fails to get a first down. They are strong-legged players who can accurately kick a ball by dropping it from their outstretched hands.

Return Specialists – There are two types of return specialists: Kick Returner (KR) and Punt Returner (PR). These are the players the P and K are kicking to on punts and kickoffs.